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Shoe companies aligning with video games

Hoping to catch the eye of their young sports-minded target audience, the battle for athletic shoe supremacy has spilled over into video games.

Take-Two Interactive, maker of NBA 2K6, has entered into a strategic partnership with Nike, while its competitor, Electronic Arts, has struck a deal with Reebok to feature the shoes in its game NBA Live 2006.

Financial terms were not immediately available.

"As video games become more of a mass-market opportunity, we provide a platform for Nike that other mediums can't meet," said Erik Whiteford, vice president of marketing for Take-Two's 2K Sports.

In NBA 2K6, players will have the ability to design their own Nike shoe and put it on a player in the game. Nike shoes can only be placed on the roughly 200 NBA players that have deals with Nike and their Jordan and Converse brands. Reebok and other shoe companies will be in the game, though Whiteford said their shoes will be less detailed. In both titles, gamers will have a chance to use new company shoes in the virtual world at the same time the shoes are released in the real word. Nike and Reebok plan to coordinate with the gaming companies to release codes that would make the shoe available in the game.

Nike will be making a limited edition 2K5 shoe, while the first 100 gamers that unlock three varieties of Allen Iverson's retro shoes will get free pairs by being referred to a special Web site.

"This is another vehicle for our fans to experience our shoes," said spokesman Rodney Knox, who noted that NBA 2K6 will have a total of 24 Nike shoes in its game, 13 of which can be unlocked with a code.

Reebok has previously signed deals with Electronic Arts for their NBA and NFL Street games, according to Marc Fireman, Reebok's director of advertising and interactive marketing.

Despite the deals, the video game companies have had a tough time offering an exclusive, which would block out the logo of other shoe companies, deciding to let the quest for realism preside over monetary temptation in the business, which figures to generate about $10 billion in sales in the U.S. alone this year.

Insiders speculate that the next step might include making it possible for gamers to buy the shoes directly off the gaming platform. In the game Everquest II, gamers don't have to leave the game to order a pie from their local Pizza Hut.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com. Check out Darren's Sports Business Blog